Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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A more and more common word in feminist debating is “mansplaining”, typically used as an unfair argument in the same vein as e.g. “misogynist” or based (as so many other feminist or even female reactions) in a misinterpretation of what others say and mean. Here I explore a few aspects of the topic, including arguing that the accusations often goes back to a problem with “misstakes” on behalf of the complaining party—either she “missinterprets” the intents of the speaker or she has “missunderstood” the matter under discussion.

See also my article on “gender-glasses” for yet another more general problem of which “mansplaining” is often a special case.

What is “mansplaining”

At the time of writing (2010-08-12), Urban Dictionarye contains two definitions, the abbreviated core of which are:

  1. To explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening.

  2. Essentially utilized as a way to shut down any male- or person they [feminists] perceive as male- who dares to express an opinion that differs even slightly from their own warped version of reality.

I have added my own suggestion. In full:

A word typically used to imply that the previous speaker is overly condescending and/or has a different way of explaining because he happens to be a man and the other party a woman. Usually, this is based in an over- or misinterpretation based on prejudice about the alleged mansplainers intentions or on an inability to take constructive feedback. Sometimes it is used as an attempt to unfairly discredit the speaker or his arguments without having to provide counter-arguments. Typically, the mansplainer is simultaneously assumed to be sexist or misogynistic.


Explainee: Women only earn 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. This is a grave injustice.

Explainer: That is a misleading statement. In fact, after correcting for factors like hours worked, experience, physical danger involved, etc., the difference is just a few percent.

Explainee (sarcastic): Thank you for mansplaining! I would never have thought of that with my tiny little brain!

My previous analysis of condescension

The topic surfaced on a previous blog entry where I address the larger topic of condescension:

Condescension too is highly subjective, and many are over-sensitive to it or imagine it where it is not present. This tends to apply in particular to people who use the word “mansplain”: There are two main situations in which I have seen this word used:

  1. A man tries to explain more-or-less anything to a woman who is also a men-are-out-to-get-us feminist; in particular, when she actually is wrong in the underlying issue.

  2. A man tries to explain something to a woman who is also stupid or highly uninformed, and his dumbing-down is interpreted as “You talk to me like that because I am woman!”, instead of the correct “You talk to me like that because I am stupid/uninformed!”. Notably, the amount of dumbing down need not even be so large that an independent observer would consider it condescending, but rather an attempt to be helpful. (When push comes to shove, Einstein would have discussed physics with a layman in a very different manner than with another Nobel-Prize winning physicist—this is in the best interest of all parties, and not in anyway disrespectful or condescending.)

    Corollary: If you constantly find that other people are condescending towards you, the reason might actually rest with you, not them.

As an additional complication, some incorrectly interpret a factual way of writing as condescending, which can be a major obstacle to a fair discussion when combined with a “no condescension” rule. Similarly, even statements that correctly point out that a particular belief is wrong or naive are often taken as condescending. (Depending on the details, this need not be incorrect; however, there is a world of difference between e.g. “That it is common beginner’s error, which does not consider that X.”, even when condescending, and “Do not trouble your pretty little head with that. We do not want it to over-heat, do we?”—there is condescension and there is condescension.)

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that we are all imperfect: Should someone, when faced with an unusual amount of stupidity, eventually become condescending, then that is something very different from someone who is constantly condescending to everyone he meets.

Other entries on my blog also touch upon the subject, e.g. this post.

Mansplaining as an explanation to someone who thinks she knows better

In the above, based on how feminists like to define the term, I have overlooked one major case (although this case is typically overlapping with at least one of the above): A man explains something to a woman who thinks that she knows better than he does.

While she may occasionally be correct, this is an exception, in my experience—not because he is a man and she a woman, but because she uses the word “mansplain”: Women (and men) who are intelligent and well-informed tend not to use it or other personal attacks, but come with actual counter-arguments. Those who cry “mansplain”, OTOH, usually underly grave misconceptions, often through feminist propaganda and the asssociated warped world-view—and they only rarely do know better than the alleged mansplainer. (Here the second UrbanDictionary definition comes quite close to the core of the issue.)

Indeed, on those occasions that I, personally, have been accused of mansplaining, the woman in question had often made a statement of great naivete or an absolute beginner’s mistake.

Another one for the Dunning-Kruger effectw?

“Mansplaining” is a sexist term

It is often claimed that mansplaining is something that members of both sexes can do—just that it would be done more often by men. Both from typical use and the word it self, it is clear, however, that “mansplaining” is a sexist term: It is something that is male and negative—and which is used with a reference to men, even when a woman does it. Indeed, considering that some women consider even “nagger” a sexist word, it is an astounding hypocrisy that feminists presume to use a word such as “mansplain”. (Notably, this would apply even if they were correct in their actual use of it, which they, however, are not.)


The infamous “Patriarchy” has a similar character: While at least the more intellectual (or, possibly, pseudo-intellectual) feminists like to claim that their notion of “Patriarchy” does not really refer to men, but to a particular way of handling e.g. gender-roles or hierarchies, the term is inherently sexist—and almost all uses are such that it is clearly something that men (supposedly) do to women.

The hypocrisy of “mansplaining”

I have already mentioned that the inherent sexism in “mansplaining” makes many of its users hypocrites. However, there is a bigger hypocrisy:

Those women who use the word are themselves very likely to be “womansplainers”: They explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening. (To paraphrase the feminist definition from Urban Dictionary.) Indeed, in my experience, women do this more often than men—by which token “womansplaining” would be the better term to begin with. Other sins sometimes associated with mansplaining, e.g. to make a claim without backing evidence, while expecting it to be taken as absolute truth, are very common too.

Parent, Adult, Child

I spent some time on Transactional Analysisw in the late 90s. One of several ideas I found useful was to split people (in a particular interaction) into roles of Child (someone behaving in a childish or childlike manner; also has some similarity to the Id), Parent (someone showing a, typically, patronizing attitude; also has some similarity to the Super-Ego), and Adult (someone focusing on the factual issues in a reasoning manner; also has some similarity to the Ego). Note that these are technical terms that should not be interpreted as identical to their lower-case homonyms.

In my impression, a very sizable part of the problem is rooted in men making Adult-to-X statements, feminists misinterpreting these as Parent-to-X statements, and a corresponding unfair accusation arising.

A minor related problem, where at least a partial blame does fall on the man, is that many feminist discussions are kept on a Child level (the remainder are typically on the Parent level). In my observations (I do not recall what TA has to say on the topic), it seems that people have a tendency to move towards a Parent position when confronted with a Child. The result is that a man who might normally have tried for Adult ends up being a Parent, that a “weak” Parent becomes a “strong” Parent, or possibly even that a Child becomes a Parent.


This, however, will depend a little on the situation: Broadly speaking, a Child (Adult) will move someone towards Adult (Child) if they are on “opposing sides” or fill different specific roles in the current situation, while a Child (Adult) will move an ally, “playmate”, or similar, towards Child (Adult).

More generally, I am under the impression that when a situation calls for a certain set of roles, people have a weak unconscious tendency to drift towards those roles that are unoccupied, even when they would be better suited for one of the occupied ones.

Damned if you do; damned if you don’t

An interesting catch is that the concept of mansplaining is more or less impossible to discuss with the typical feminist:

Anyone objecting to a particular use or the concept as a whole is immediately labeled as ... a mansplainer. In effect, as with many other feminist argumentation tactics, one is stuck with two options: Firstly, one can remain silent, even in the face of clear errors—but then faulty statements are left without contradiction and allowed to influence more people. Secondly, one can object—but is then automatically turned into further “proof” for the incorrect statement and/or discredited.